Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad, Tio Pakusadewo, Cecep Arif Rahman, Oka Antara, Julie Estelle, Very Tri Yulisman, Yayan Ruhian
Plot: Rama (Uwais) is sent undercover in a mob to flush out corrupt cops leaking information to big gangsters, getting perilously close to the unpredictable son of a dangerous crime lord.
Gareth Evans took a fairly big gamble, bringing a totally Indonesian-speaking film to the UK and trying to turn it into a mainstream action movie. However, Evans is such a talented director and the fight scenes were so intense and powerful that it totally worked. We could argue that with the sequel to Redemption, Jakarta (or ‘Thug’ in the English language), is an even bigger risk. Redemption cut away massive strands of story and just gave us an adrenaline-filled ‘beat-em-up’. The Raid 2 does something much more complicated and impressive, presenting the audience with an intricate crime epic, with several mob leaders, a storyline packed with twists and turns and long sequences, where not a single punch is thrown.
The first film focused almost entirely on Iko Uwais. It helped ground the film by having one character lead us through this narrative. Evans did allow for some supporting actors to take over for small sequences, but for the most part, Uwais held the film with his natural screen presence. The Raid 2, surprisingly, has long moments where Rama doesn’t even show up. As we are introduced to the mob, the story breaks into segments, where we get a small insight into the lives of the other characters. The film’s main villain (although there are arguably quite a few contenders for that role), is the son of the large Indonesian gangster and he has the biggest character arc in the movie. Arifin Putra is an amazing actor and we are easily captivated by his slow descent into childish madness, forgetting that this is an Iko Uwais picture. Some of the other good guys are elevated in status slightly, because Uwais steps back and allows them some breathing space. Oka Antara’s fight scenes might not be as hectic as Rama’s, but because we are unsure if the character will live or die, his battles get that little bit more tension out of them. The villains are more memorable here as well. Sometimes, it is just the small quirks that add them to the greatest foreign bad guy gallery. If you liked some hammer action in Old Boy, Julie Estelle’s terrifying Hammer Girl blows poor old Oh Dae-su out of the water. Cecep Arif Rahman says little, but his fight moves are expertly precise. Man of the match from the last film, Mad Dog, shows up again a nice, little cameo role. His character is small, yet effective, with a strong back story. He is homeless, giving the vast amount of money he earns to the son, he never gets to see, haunted by a hypocritical ex-wife, who chastises his choice of career, yet takes the blood money anyway. And then there is good old Iko Uwais, himself, who despite letting the other actors get a bigger slice of the action, remains the one to watch. His acting has come a long way and we get to see a variety of emotions flick through his intense hard-man stare. Unlike the action heroes of the 90s (eg: Van Damme and Seagal), Iko Uwais is improving all the time, which makes him that little more exciting an action star to follow.
The story might be more expansive and impressive, but the fight scenes are just as incredible as ever. There are several moments, when you lean back in your chair and just share the pain, as the next bad guy gets a punch to the gut, or a bone snapped viciously out of place. The intensity of the fights is always there. In the first film, the final few battles were underwhelming, because we had been given cool sequence after cool sequence, until the bar was too high for Evans to reach. His talent became his own downfall. Here, because there is a large amount of story separating each skirmish, when we finally get to the punches, they work that little bit better. We don’t mind the large sections of dialogue, because the pay-off is never anything less than spectacular. The choreography is more than awesome though; it is also very intelligent fighting. When we see Rama, or any of the top fighters in this movie for that matter, taking on a large crowd of enemies, we can see their thought process in the sequence. As Rama beats up his current victim, we can see from his movements that he is already anticipating his next target. He thinks three steps ahead in the fight. We just stand back and watch in awe, as these fighting machines do their thing, wowing us every step of the way, especially when these titans are put into fights against each other. The fights in this movie have been described as a dance, but I would go that one step further. With Evans’ direction, the fighting is an art.
Final Verdict: Surprisingly, Gareth Evans manages to top the first film by attaching a gripping crime epic narrative to proceedings, yet never compromising on the heart-stopping fight scenes.